Robert Evans, the flamboyant and controversial Hollywood studio executive and producer who counted Love Story, Chinatown and Marathon Man among his most influential films, has died aged 89. The news was confirmed by a PR representative.
Evans was best known as one of the key figures in 1970 s Hollywood, and to a later generation through his no-holds-barred 1994 autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture. He was as celebrated for his rowdy sex-and-drug-fueled lifestyle as for the films he worked on. Described as“least bashful producer in Hollywood”, he was married seven times, convicted for cocaine trafficking and fell spectacularly from grace before managing to climb the greasy pole of the film industry once again.
Evans, the son of a New York dentist was born Robert Shapera in 1930. He first worked for his brother Charles’s clothing company, Evan-Picone. At 26, he was spotted poolside at the Beverly Hilton by the actor Norma Shearer, who successfully lobbied for him to be cast in the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) as Irving Thalberg, her late studio-mogul husband.
His performance as Thalberg proved premonitory as, aware of his shortcomings as an actor, Evans who then switched horses to become a producer. By 1966 he was head of production at Paramount, cementing Evans’s place at the heart of Hollywood. While at Paramount, he put a string of hits into production, including Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story (whose star, Ali MacGraw, became his third wife), The Godfather and Serpico. Evans also bought the rights to The Great Gatsby in 1971, intending for MacGraw to play Daisy Buchanan. (After she left him in 1972 for Steve McQueen, the role went instead to Mia Farrow, who starred opposite Robert Redford in the adaptation released in 1974.)
Evans moved into more hands-on producing withChinatown, the Roman Polanski film he had commissioned from writer Robert Towne; the film was a success and prompted Evans to leave Paramount and set up as an independent. Marathon Man continued his good run, but the hits began to be elusive. The 1980 Robert Altman-directed film Popeye was a commercial flop, and in the same year Evans was convicted of cocaine trafficking, after entering a guilty plea as part of a plea bargain. He agreed to make anti-drug commercials, but was not sentenced to jail time.
Evans’s career went spectacularly off the rails in the ensuing decade – “My life in the 80 s went from royalty to infamy, ”he said in 2002at aGuardian live interview at the National FilmTheater. Having become a Hollywood pariah after the conviction, Evans sailed even closer to the wind during the disastrous 1984 production of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club, which resulted inthe murder of Roy Radin, Evans’ business partner on the film. (Evans pleaded the fifth amendment to avoid giving evidence against the four people convicted of the killing.)
Evans returned to producing in 1990 with The Two Jakes, a sequel to Chinatown that was directed by Jack Nicholson (with whom Evans maintained a long friendship), but it proved a flop. He also began an association with maverick screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, with whom he made the erotic thrillers Sliver and Jade; neither were especially successful, as was the fate of adaptations of The Saint and The Phantom.
Evans became a cult figure to a new generation in 1994 with the publication of his autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture. Its title echoes producer Darryl F Zanuck’s pronouncement after the rest of the cast demanded that Evans be fired from one of his first acting roles, in the 1957 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises. (Hemingway was reportedly one of the most vociferous objectors, and Evans would gleefully refer to his later relationship with Hemingway’s granddaughter Margaux as “revenge”.) In 2002, a film adaptation, directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen, was released with Evans’s participation (although he refused to be filmed). A stage version, devised by Simon McBurney and starring Danny Huston, premiered at the Royal Court in 2017. A second autobiography, The Fat Lady Sang, was published in 2013.
Having suffered a series of strokes in 1998, Evans had an unexpected hit in 2003 with the Kate Hudson / Matthew McConaughey romcom How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which grossed more than $ 100 m in the US alone.
Francis Ford Coppola, who worked with Evans on The Godfather and The Crobertotton Club,has paid tribute, praising his “charm, good looks, enthusiasm, style, and sense of humor ”. *****
None of Evans’s marriages lasted longer than four years, and one – to actor Catherine Oxenberg in 1998 – only made it nine days. Evans is survived by his son Josh, with MacGraw, who is a film producer.